Protesters say Toomey meets with fat cats but not jobless

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HARRISBURG -- Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's stock has been rising rapidly in Washington, as the freshman was named last week to the crucial 12-member "super committee" that will try to resolve the nation's growing debt crisis.

But his stock hit rock bottom today with Shawn Wygant of Forest Hills, who was recently laid off from Pittsburgh-based Sodexo Co., plus about 20 other members of liberal and union groups who gathered in a steady rain outside his office here.

"We want Pat Toomey to meet with the people who voted him in, but the only ones he meets with are big business owners," Mr. Wygant said. "I lost my job and my health insurance but Pat Toomey doesn't worry about that. We want to have a town hall meeting with him by early September so we can get more jobs."

Another laid-off worker, Dan Haney of Philadelphia, said he's been traveling to Toomey offices in Eastern Pennsylvania, and "He said he'd meet with us who lost our jobs but he won't give us a time and a place. He campaigned on bringing jobs to people but we haven't seen it yet. Rich people pay little or no taxes and it's sickening."

Laid-off workers, plus unions such as the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the largest teachers union, and the Service Employees International Union, which represents many government workers, plus liberal groups such as Keystone Progress, have been pressing Mr. Toomey to support tax increases, especially on corporations. They will continue their protest Thursday at noon at Station Square in Pittsburgh.

Michael Morrill of Keystone Progress said, "Sen. Toomey has only met with corporate leaders, the wealthy and the business community. We need him to meet with ordinary folks and people who are unemployed."

The protesters have formed something called the American Dream Movement, which is trying to meet with members of Congress before they go back to Washington in early September. They want Congress to "eliminate corporate tax breaks, such as for corporate jets," and use federal funds to hire school teachers and road/bridges builders to reduce the jobless rate.

Jerry Oleksiak of suburban Philadelphia, incoming vice president of the PSEA, and Rick Askey, former president of the Harrisburg Education Association, said more, not fewer teachers, are needed. Mr. Askey said Harrisburg has lost 300 of its 870 teachers due to state and federal funding cuts and now faces class sizes of up to 28 students in some classes.

However, the protesters are on a different page than Mr. Toomey. Just after being named to the super committee last week, he said that major tax hikes "are not going to be part" of the effort to reduce the nation's $14 trillion deficit. He said he was looking toward reductions in "entitlement programs," such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which are among the biggest items in the federal budget.

"Some big broad tax increase is really going to be off the table from the beginning," he told Fox News.

He did, however, say he'd like to see "all kinds of deductions and write-offs and special-interest loopholes" eliminated by the super panel, so marginal tax rates could be lowered.

He said he thinks Democratic members of the panel "understand that the long-term drivers of our deficits are, in fact, the big entitlement programs."

Tom Barnes: or 717-623-1238


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